If you’re 50 years of age or more, odds are that you’ve heard of shingles or know someone who has experienced this notoriously painful condition. About 90 percent of people over 50 are at risk due to having chickenpox as children.1
Shingles, known medically as herpes zoster, occurs when the varicella zoster virus that causes childhood chickenpox is reactivated.2
While people of any age can develop shingles, the likelihood of being affected increases sharply after 50, as our immune defences weaken and resistance to the inactive chickenpox virus decreases.2,3 About half of all cases occur in people aged 60 or over.4
Risk of shingles is also higher in people with weakened immune systems — for instance, due to cancer, immune-suppressing medications, or even severe stress. Pain that persists for 90 days or more after the shingles rash first developed is known as postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), and may affect up to 30 percent of individuals who have shingles.3
Shingles symptoms vary
Shingles causes a painful, blistering rash — typically the blisters scab over in 7 to 10 days and the rash clears in 3 to 5 weeks.4 Mild shingles may be simply itchy and inconvenient. When severe, pain may interfere with daily activities, like putting on a shirt or bathing.5
There are two shingles vaccines approved in Canada.6 Vaccination lowers shingles risk and may help to prevent complications such as extended nerve pain from PHN.2,3
If you’re 50 years of age or older,ask your health care professional if shingles vaccination is right for you.7
Disclaimer: This information should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your doctor. There may be variations in treatment that your physician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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1National Advisory Committee on Immunization. Statement on the Recommended use of Herpes Zoster Vaccine. January 2010, 36(ASC-1):1-19.
2Johnson RW. Herpes zoster epidemiology, management, and disease and economic burden in Europe: a multidisciplinary perspective. Ther Adv Vaccines. 2015 Jul; 3(4): 109–120.
3Kawai K, Gebremeskel BG, Acosta CJ. Systematic review of incidence and complications of herpes zoster: towards a global perspective. BMJ Open. 2014 Jun;4(6):e004833. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4591524/
4NIH National Institute on Aging (NIA). Shingles. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/shingles
5US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Shingles (Herpes Zoster): Overview. https://www.cdc.gov/shingles/about/overview.html
6Shapiro M. “Consider getting the shingles vaccine before 65: Doctors’ Notes.” The Star. 29/01/2018. https://www.thestar.com/life/2018/01/29/consider-getting-the-shingles-vaccine-before-65-doctors-notes.html
7US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Shingles (Herpes Zoster): Prevention & Treatment. https://www.cdc.gov/shingles/about/prevention-treatment.html